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Out-of-school children and federalism

By Editorial Board
20 March 2020   |   4:21 am
A recent report that the federal government is working to secure a N45 billion grant to tackle the worsening out-of-school children shame in the country is disheartening in the extreme.

A recent report that the federal government is working to secure a N45 billion grant to tackle the worsening out-of-school children shame in the country is disheartening in the extreme. Issues bordering on basic education are better handled at the local level. The earlier the nation’s leaders understand this, the better for all of us. 

That there are over 10 million out-of-school children in Nigeria is embarrassing. It shows the failure of policy on education foundation in the country. Although the states in the north are worse off, it has assumed a national dimension.

In any case, the states and local governments should deal with this problem at the primary school level where out-of-school children abound. If the states and local governments are excluded, the effort will be an exercise in futility. 

It is not clear why the federal government seems to be going it alone. Why will the federal government not listen to all the voices of reason on devolution of some soft powers to the states? Basic and secondary education should not be any headache to the central government in this kind of federation. 

According to reports, the grant, which is to be secured from Global Partnership for Education (GPE), would enhance the war against out-of-school children in the country. We hope this should be by way of enrollment and equipping the schools.

The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, who disclosed the deal at an event marking the 2020 Commonwealth Day Celebration in Abuja, said that government would soon commence the implementation of a five-year special project for the out-of-school girls. The programme dubbed, ‘Adolescent Girls Initiative’, was for learning and empowerment, aimed at out-of-school girls between the ages of 10 and 20 at the secondary school level.

Noting that the project on girls’ education is supported by the World Bank and is aimed at reducing the out-of-school scourge within the next two years, Adamu said, “Nigeria reveres her cultural, economic and educational exchanges as it has contributed immensely to the common future the country’s desires.”

While effort to secure funding to fight the scourge of out-of-school is commendable, it is important to note that there is no good governance in our school system. The system has been so disorganised to the extent that laid down rules are flagrantly flouted and standards are not maintained. Good governance is sacrificed on the altar of favoritism and cronyism even in school appointments.

This newspaper would like to state clearly that obtaining grants to fund out-of-school children may not be the only way out. We already have the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and other interventions, which are not being fully utilised by states to fund primary and secondary school education. Many state governments are unwilling to pay the counterpart fund that enables them to access these education support funds. Despite the availability of these funds, the condition of the schools is not impressive. The children are suffering. The teachers are not well compensated. Infrastructure has been generally poor. Classrooms, laboratories and libraries are decrepit.

The truth is that even the children in school are not better off. Although, it is granted that their counterparts who are out-of-school may be worse off, the situation of in-school children is abysmal too. It would have been better if those children in school are adequately catered for to serve as models for those outside. We quite recognise some effort being made by government such as the school-feeding programme in select schools, designed to enhance enrollment and the wellbeing of the children.

It is pertinent to ask how the children are being educated. What are they being taught? How are they being prepared for the future? What priority is placed on their education, which is the foundation for the future? Educating the children should be a priority for the future.

Granted that education is on the concurrent legislative list, the federal government is not expected to handle education for children at the community level. In fact, it should hand over all the Unity Schools to the state governments. 

It is sad that many states are not giving adequate attention to the education of their children, which explains why there are millions of out-of-school children. The states should therefore be alive to their responsibilities, in this regard. 

The federal government, in an attempt to fill the gap, cherry-picks policies it deems would enhance the extent of its involvement under the ill-defined structure, which in reality, is a celebration of unitary government. There is already a groundswell of opinion against unitary system that has held the country down since 1966.

In other words, the states on their own ought to be seeking funding to educate their children. What the present convoluted structure teaches us is that the grant the federal government is seeking for out-of-school children may not reach the states, after all. Abuja is too far away from the people they are seeking to assist. That is part of the reasons we will not be tired of telling Abuja to understand the times: that federalism is indeed an idea for this time when the states are required to plan for out-of-school children. The responsibility of Abuja should not be more than regulation and strategic support when necessary. 

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